Refocusing After a Disappointing Result

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August 4, 2015 on 1:11 am | In Athlete Profile, Community, Races, Random Musings, Sponsorship | No Comments

This blog brought to you by TriSports Team athlete Kevin Portmann. We’ve all had a disappointing race, so what do you do when you have a hard time shaking off that feeling of failure so you can move on towards your next event? Here’s some advice from someone who recently experienced it. Check out Kevin’s blog and follow him on Twitter – @eviandrinker.


My goal for this season is to qualify for Kona, a common goal for triathletes who race 70.3 and IMs. It is the mecca of triathlon, the birthplace of the sport that now sees thousands of athletes crossing the finish line every year. Late last year, after IM 70.3 Worlds in Mont Tremblant, my coach talked me into racing IM Texas. Heat and flats aren’t my best friends, but I was excited about racing an IM earlier in the year. I prefer hilly terrain and cold temperatures (who doesn’t like racing in 60ish weather?), but his rationale was that my fitness improved a lot over the year, that we had 6 months to prepare for it, and IM TX, as the NA championship race this year, offered 75 slots (instead of 50 for other IMs). Before this talk, the target race was IM Whistler, a course with 7k and 1.5k of vertical climb on the bike and run courses, respectively. In addition, the race can get hot (90 degrees last year), but it is usually a dry heat.

Texas did not go as planned. It was a massive disappointment for me, which made me question why I do this sport. I’ve spent weeks dissecting what happened on race day, and though I hate to find excuses, my coach, close tri friends, and myself came to the conclusion that the heat (95 degrees in T2) and humidity (95% at the start, 80% when I reached T2) were probably the culprits of my poor performance to clinch that Kona slot.

But there were other factors that contributed to this failure, factors that I had control over but did not manage well on race day. If I am honest with myself, I should realize that I could have done a much better job working on them in my build up to IMTX to be better prepared for the race. I always question my results, sometimes too much, so I’m using this blog as a brain dump of things I could have done better, and things I will address in my short build up to IM Canada. Hopefully it will pay off this time and hopefully some readers will find it helpful. Here they are…

1)      Lack of self-confidence: Despite the rough NY winter, I’ve had a great build up leading up to TX. I finished 2nd in my AG at Oceanside 70.3, my bike got stronger, and I stayed injury-free. I’ve also made progress in the pool, though these have not shown yet. Despite all that, I started questioning all the work I did 2 weeks before the race, when hay was in the barn. Mentally I was not where I should have been. I did use mental Qs to help me mentally prepare, but I almost immediately annihilated those Qs with negative thoughts. I find myself being easily influenced by others’ past results, or talks, which makes me think that they are better than me, and I lose that fire. This cost me a lot. I probably lost the chance to show what I was really capable of in the 2 weeks before the race. It’s a battle that I struggle with constantly. I can spend hours training hard and right, with high quality and high intensity, but my mental weakness always gets in the way and throws things out of the window.

My solution: I refuse to look at the IMCA start list to see who is racing, and instead will focus on my own race. It intimidates me when it really should excite me to face stiff competition. I have also taped my splits on the bike, on the phone, and anywhere I go frequently to keep the race in mind. This has helped so far, especially when my trainer rides get hard.

2)      A race is NEVER over: At mile 8 on the run of IM TX, I thought I was out of Kona contention, which impacted my morale even more. I couldn’t hear my girlfriend telling me that I was 5th, knocking on the Kona door, and realized after I crossed the finish that I was not too far from it. Had I kept pushing, I am convinced I would have been in a position to fight for it, but I let the little evil inside my head take over.

My solution: Never think a race is over before everyone crosses the finish, whether you are winning or are in balance for a qualification or podium. Keep that inner fire and fight until you cross that finish, because anything can happen. This is one big lesson I took home from my trip to the Lone Star state. It pains me to see that I had to experience it to apply it.

3)      Training right on the trainer: I’ve spent countless hours on the trainer and hit power numbers I’ve never seen before. At TX, however, I had to spend the last 40 miles on the pursuit, being incapable of staying on the aerobars due to a strong pain in my shoulder. Thinking back, I realized that I did not spend a single hour straight on the aerobars while on the trainer. Legs were strong, but my position was not right. It cost me a lot of time and energy in TX, probably more than if I trained at lower wattage but in the aero position during my trainer rides.

My solution: I have decided to do all my trainer rides on the aero, regardless of my power output, to teach my body to accept the position and to be mentally trained to stay aero for long periods of times. It is hard, but it is needed. After weeks focusing on this, my power has dropped a bit, but I can already tell my form is better, and my tolerance for the discomfort that the bars bring is higher. One of my long rides was a testament of the hard work of the past weeks. I was able to ride 3.5 hours on my aero bars, even on the hills where I made a conscious effort to keep my elbows down when my mind asked me to move my hands to the pursuits. It was not easy and the temptation of moving to an upright position was there, but I fought that inner evil voice and stayed mentally involved in my training. I have probably spent 95% of the ride on the aero. I felt a lot more comfortable, without a single pain in my shoulder. I also felt like I was using my quads more efficiently, I was riding more straight, and was able to look up without any tension in the neck. It seems to be paying off. It is a work in progress that I will continue until IM Canada.

See, no aero position!

4)      Dealing with (physical) lows: It’s hard to mimic race conditions during training, but one thing is certain, when you hit a low, it’s always hard to pull yourself out of it (at least for me). I struggled on the run at IMTX for 2 reasons: heat and humidity. But I also struggled because I could not see myself fighting through the low I hit at mile 4 (I fainted at mile 4, only to be woken up by a spectator). I never experienced such struggle before and did not know what to do, or whether I could do it. In hindsight, I think I was more unprepared with the idea of struggling on the run as I did not think I could hit such low. In my mental Qs, I always pictured myself running a decent pace, hurting, but never struggling…1st flaw!

My solution: I’ve changed up the way I approach my runs now. I’ve decided to take any opportunity that Mother Nature gives to do my runs in the heat. And I found one workout that replicated what I experienced at Texas: feeling that my legs could not support my weight, with nothing left in the tank to help. The workout I found was a 13×1 mile repeat with 7min rest. I did it at the local track, and despite the beautiful view, running 52 times in circle on a track for close to 3 hours was mentally challenging. I spiced it up with negative splits for each mile (took 10” off each mile), and finished the last 3 at top speed. The 7min rest breaks down the workout, making you feel invincible on the first 4-5 miles. But as you ask your body for more, the 7min break makes it hard to switch it on. You constantly fire up the engine and shut it down for a long period of time. Halfway through the run, you end up with more rest than actual run time, which makes it even harder. Your legs and body are in this lethargic state for most of the workout (7min break), and you electro shock it by asking it to be ready for a hard set (6:20 pace or faster). I won’t do that for all my long runs, but it was good to mix things up and this workout turned out to pay off, teaching my body how to cope with down times.

Pushing through the pain

A lot of lessons learned from my race in Texas that I know will bear fruits in Canada. Forcing myself to do a thorough analysis of the race has helped me pinpoint things I could have done better and things I should apply in my build up to IMCA. I’m sure it will pay off in one way or another. There always are valuable lessons one can learn from every race. I’ve probably learned more on this race than I have at any other I’ve done. Time to move on and give it my best!

Stay focus and happy training! Feel free to speak out if you shared the same experiences!

Editor’s note: Kevin raced Whistler on July 26th and crushed it! Despite nasty conditions, he stuck to his plan, stayed mentally focused, and punched his Kona card with a 2nd AG and 6th OA amateur placing. Congrats, Kevin!

Punching the Kona card!

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